SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KTVU) - The San Francisco 49er’s big win over their cross Bay rival is generating lots of interest. But not just about the lop-sided final score, but also something that happened at the edge of the playing field. An act of protest almost overlooked by the fans and the national TV audience, as Gold Rush member Kayla-M knelt during the national anthem. And it wasn’t the first for her or the group.
“This is bigger than us. This is deeper than us. Like, this is the whole community honestly,” said former Gold Rush member Mariah Mendez via video call from Baton Rouge, La.
She says she and five other cheerleaders, including Kayla, all took a knee during the anthem December 24, 2017 before the NFL Week 16 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mendez says the 2016 police fatal shooting of Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling, prompted her to follow Colin Kaepernick’s lead..
“With everything going on, I felt like that was my purpose. especially with having that platform,” said Mendez.
A former Niners signal-caller, Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem after a spate of fatal police-involved shootings of black men two years ago.
“I think now it’s getting attention because it was such a big game last night. And so they paid attention to everything,” said Mendez.
While Fox Sports cut to commercials during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” some fans did notice the solo protest.
“She’s an America citizen and she has that right. So Freedom of speech if she wants to that. Although I think with her employer if they have rules against that being that she’s on the job representing a company like the 49ers, then there might be some repercussions,” said an unidentified male 49ers fan attending the “Thursday Night Football” game at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers say the cheerleaders are not employees of the team and as such, have no comment about Thursday night’s act of defiance. They do say as an organization, they’re supportive of player’s and employee’s right to free speech and free expression. Gold Rush executives did not respond to Fox 2 multiple requests for comments about Kayla-M’s action prior to kick-off.
“She really believes in and really is going for what she believes in,” said Mendez.
In a country struggling to level the playing field, now cheerleaders are garnering greater attention, perhaps for all the right reasons.